E-sports coaching app gets $6 million, because that’s the world we live in now

Dojo Madness, a Berlin-based startup that sells analytics and coaching tools to casual and professional online gamers, has raised $6 million in a new round of financing.

Setting aside the on-its-face absurdity that this is actually a thing (I am old and stopped understanding the world about two releases of World of Warcraft ago), e-sports is quickly turning into a business that our current president would characterize as “YUGE.”

The global audience for e-sports is expected to reach nearly 400 million this year (larger than the population of the U.S.), split between enthusiasts and casual viewers, and is expected to grow by 50 percent over the next three years, according to data Dojo Madness cited from the research firm Newzoo.

The latest round of financing for Dojo was led by Raine Ventures, the venture investment arm of the boutique investment banking shop, The Raine Group, and K Cube Ventures, the investment arm of Korean messaging platform Kakao.

Previous investors March Capital and DN Capital also participated in the funding, which brings the total funds that Dojo has raised to $12.75 million.

 “Many popular esports titles exhibit a very steep learning curve. DOJO’s products improve the experience and engagement of players in their favorite games, and as such, are equally of great value to publishers. We couldn’t be more thrilled to partner with such an experienced and passionate team,” said Blair Ford, a venture partner at Raine Ventures, in a statement.

Dojo Madness sells automated coaching tools for League of Legends, Overwatch and Dota 2, under the brands LOLSUMO, DOTASUMO and OVERSUMO. The company also acquired the coaching marketplace Leaguecoaching.gg to add interactive coaching with live training sessions to more professional gamers.

If those products aren’t compelling enough to warrant the company’s $12.75 million in funding, consider its data and analytics tools for teams and broadcasters involved in competitions for Global Offensive, League of Legends and Dota 2.

Dojo Madness was founded in 2014 by e-sports veteran and Esports League founder Jens Hilgers, Markus Fuhrmann, the co-founder of Delivery Hero, and Christian Gruber, a digital marketer who previously owned his own agency after a stint at Red Bull Media.

YouTube’s live TV streaming service goes live in five US cities for $35 per month

Back in February YouTube announced YouTube TV, a $35 TV streaming service it hopes might kill your cable box. At the time, they didn’t say exactly when it’d launch — just that it’d be “soon.”

“Soon,” it seems, means today. YouTube is rolling out the service in five major US cities this morning.

YouTube TV takes a bunch of the more popular U.S. cable channels — ABC, Fox, CBS, NBC, CW, Disney, SyFy, ESPN and 40+ more — and crams them into one app. It’ll cost $35 a month, which gives you access to Live on up to six accounts with up to three devices streaming simultaneously. 

Alas, working around the existing monolith that is the cable industry takes a while… so YouTube TV will roll out in different regions over time, starting with today’s launch in San Francisco, Los Angeles, New York, Chicago and Philadelphia.

Google sent me a pre-release build of the YouTube TV app, and I spent a bit of time with it prior to launch. Not enough for a full review, but enough for a few thoughts.

The app is well-designed and intuitive. It’s composed of just three tabs: Home, Library and Live. Home is your standard “stuff we think you should watch” page, Library is where you’ll find movies and shows you’ve saved (more on that in a second) and Live is a big ol’ list of everything currently playing on every channel YouTube TV currently offers up.

This Live interface is particularly slick; as you scroll, a preview of each channel’s live feed slides into place at the top almost instantly. It feels a lot like flipping channels to see what’s on the ol’ cable box — a concept that, in this age of picking and choosing anything you want to watch on demand, seems to be fading away. As someone who dropped his cable subscription half a decade ago, I forgot how natural it feels to just turn on some channel and let it babble in the background. I also forgot how absolutely horrible daytime TV is.

 After a few frame-rate hiccups that YouTube was able to patch away, the video quality was quite solid. Even fast-moving sports and action flicks look pretty darn good.

Don’t want to watch TV on your phone or tablet all the time? As you’d expect from a Google-built video app, it’s got Chromecast support — and like everything that has Chromecast, it’s super simple. Tap the Chromecast icon, pick which TV you want the video on and you’re set.

There’s a built-in “unlimited DVR” feature that lets you tap any show to record any and all future instances of it. It’s a nice touch for sports or shows that aren’t on Hulu/etc. (or those that make Hulu/etc. wait a week after airing) — but beyond those scenarios, if I’m going to be planning ahead to watch something after it’s live, I’m probably turning somewhere else for it.

(One curious bit in an otherwise straightforward design: If you want to browse a specific channel’s shows, you first tap into the search bar. It’s not the first place I thought to look, but it works.)

So, should you sign up?

If you’re one of those people who ditched cable TV long ago for Netflix/Hulu/etc. and haven’t looked back, you might not be missing much here.

If, however, you’re staying tied to your monthly cable bill for the sake of catching things live every once in a while (news/sports/etc.) and YouTube TV is available in your area and it’s got the channels you watch, it’s worth a look. The first month is free, and if you pay for a month beyond that, they’ll throw in a Chromecast… which, with an MSRP of $35, makes that second month kinda-sorta free too.

GOG Galaxy Gets Cloud Saves in Big, New Update

GOG Galaxy – the DRM-free alternative to Steam – got a big update on Wednesday, that brings the gaming client out of beta with v1.2. In addition, GOG is introducing ‘Universal Cloud Saves’, which will allow you to sync and back up your save-game files to the cloud, so you can play across PCs.

Going forward, developers will be able to add the feature to their games, and it’s been already added to classic games that form a big part of GOG’s library. Currently, the cloud save feature is available with Planescape: Torment, Dragon Age Origins, Heroes of Might & Magic III, and Vampire: the Masquerade Bloodlines.

GOG Galaxy Gets Cloud Saves in Big, New Update

Importantly, “cloud saves are not locked behind the gaming platform,” GOG wants you to know. “At any moment users can download backup of their saves data and use it as they see fit.”

That’s not the only change in v1.2, of course. The other improvements include an in-game overlay – just as you’ve seen in Steam, Origin, and Uplay – which lets you chat with friends, and check on notifications or achievements. And since GOG has always been about giving you the control, with v1.2, you can choose what features you want, so there’s no sense of “feature-creep”.

Beyond that, you get bandwidth limiting and scheduling, an FPS counter, the ability to take screenshots (with F12), achievement rarity – which shows you how common/ unique it is in the GOG community, new chat, settings window, and hibernation mode, and desktop notifications, if you choose to have GOG Galaxy run in the background.

You can get update v1.2 for GOG Galaxy now, if you’re signed up to test updates. Otherwise, you’ll need to wait till April for the general release.

Apple Officials Said to Discuss Duty Demands With Finance Ministry

Senior executives of iPhone maker Apple on Wednesday held detailed deliberations on their demand related to duty concession with officials of the finance ministry.

The meeting assumes significance as the revenue department has rejected the demands of the US-based technology major.

According to sources, the duty wish-list was discussed at the meeting, which was attended by key executives of the company.

Apple Officials Said to Discuss Duty Demands With Finance Ministry

Apple India has sought concessions, including duty exemption on manufacturing and repair units, components, capital equipment. It also sought relaxations for consumables for smartphone manufacturing and service or repair for 15 years as it plans to set up a manufacturing unit in India.

These concessions would help the company get component makers to set up units in the country as it cannot source inputs locally.

India is gradually becoming a smartphone manufacturing hub, and there is a feeling that giving concession to a particular company could be difficult for the government.

In a communication to the government, the Cupertino-based technology major has asked for incentives from the Department of Revenue and Department of Electronics and Information Technology (DeITy).

Apple also wants relaxation in the mandated 30 percent local sourcing of components.

It is also keen on reduction in Customs duties on completely knocked-down and semi-knocked-down units of devices that are to be assembled in the country.

In January, Apple had indicated to the government that it is ready with a blueprint to begin manufacturing iPhones in India, but wants fiscal concessions, including Customs duty waiver on import of components.

The company sells its products through Apple-owned retail stores in countries like China, Germany, the US, the UK and France, among others. It has no wholly-owned store in India and sells its products through distributors such as Redington and Ingram Micro.

Google introduces Family Link, its own parental control software for Android

Google has just one-upped Apple on mobile in a significant way: today the company today announced the launch of Family Link, an application for parents that lets them establish a child’s first Google account, as well as utilize a series of  parental controls to manage and track screen time, daily limits, device “bedtimes,” and which apps kids can use.

While all the major mobile device providers – Apple, Google, and Amazon included – offer parental controls on their devices –  Family Link is different because it’s a two-party system. Instead, it works more like the third-party parental control and monitoring software already on the market, where an app installed on a parent’s device is used to configure settings and keep an eye on kids’ digital behavior.

For the system to work, Family Link requires that both parent and child use Android. The parent will first download the Family Link mobile app to their own device, running Android KitKat (4.4) or higher. An iOS version is not yet available, says Google.

From this app, parents will set up the child’s Google account. It’s designed to be used for those children under the age of 13, Google notes.

Then, on the kid’s device, the child signs in using these new credentials. The child’s phone or tablet must be running either Android Nougat (7.0), or a supported device running Marshmallow (6.1). (A full list is here in the Family Link FAQ.)

Once signed in, the child’s phone usage is tracked and logged, so parents can see how much time kids spend in various apps, via weekly and monthly activity reports. From the parent’s app, moms and dads can set a number of rules for their kids, including how long kids are allowed to be on their mobile devices every day, at what time the devices can no longer be used that day (through a remote locking feature), and which apps can be installed.

Parents can approve or block apps the child wants to download from the Google Play Store, much like how Apple’s iCloud Family Sharing’s “Ask” feature works today.

Like Apple, Google doesn’t offer any suggestions as to whether a given app should be approved, however – that decision is left up to the parents’ discretion.

Explains Google:

“[Family Link] can’t make the apps or services on their phone that were designed for adults kid-safe; it’s up to parents to choose what’s right for their kid.”

A lack of guidance is one of the gaping holes with many parental control systems today. That’s unfortunate given that all the app stores have app ratings. It seems that simply highlighting the rating to parents during the “Ask” process could go a long way to helping parents make better decisions.

That being said, Family Link does allow parents to at least remotely configure the filtering options for some of Google’s own apps, like the Google Search app and the Chrome browser. This will protect kids from adult content and other inappropriate material when doing web searches.

Plus, having standalone application that lets parents remotely configure a variety of control mechanisms for children’s devices will be generally helpful, and could become a selling point for Android phones and tablets.

Family Link isn’t yet broadly available. Google is offering early access to testers willing to try the service during this early preview, and provide feedback.

World Bank’s IFC investment firm invests $2M in Southeast Asian fund SeedPlus

SeedPlus, the early stage investment firm launched by Singapore-based VC firm Jungle Ventures last year, has snagged a strategic investment from IFC, the investment and asset management firm within the World Bank Group.

IFC confirmed today that it has invested $2 million in the SeedPlus fund, the size of which has not been disclosed. The firm is also an LP with Jungle Ventures, which operates a $100 million fund principally targeted at  Series A deals, but now it joining other investors like Accel to take a part of SeedPlus, which, as the name suggests, is focused on stage seed deals in Southeast Asia.

The firm takes an operational approach to its portfolio, and its three partners count time spent employed at tech giants like Yahoo, Evernote and Spotify. Its portfolio includes B2B repairs platform Moglix, Mimetic.ai, which manages an AI assistant platform, and mobile security firm AppKnox.

“The SeedPlus investment aligns with IFC’s Venture Capital group’s strategy to invest in innovative technology companies across emerging markets. Today, there are several fast-evolving, transformative technologies disrupting key industry sectors, enabling entrepreneurship and innovation to flourish in emerging markets, particularly in Southeast Asia, which we see as a growing market for us this year,” IFC’s head of Asia investments Pravan Malhotra said in a statement.

 “IFC is a strong investor which has a huge history of supporting entrepreneurism in Asia and a footprint across the global,” Tiang Lim Foo, operating partner at SeedPlus, told TechCrunch in an interview.

“Ultimately we want to curate and carefully select our investor base, that goes back to our focus to support our startups beyond Singapore and Southeast Asia,” Foo, who formerly headed Evernote’s business in Asia, added.

He pointed out that relationships with Accel and IFC can open doors and give portfolio companies links to help raise money further down the line, but there’s no formal obligation or agreement limiting them to raising funding from SeedPlus LPs.

OpenRent, the UK online letting agent, picks up £4.4M from Rocket Internet’s GFC

OpenRent, one of a number of online letting agents (or realtor, as it might be described in the U.S.), has picked up £4.4 million in backing from Rocket Internet’s venture arm Global Founders Capital.

The London-based company’s last funding round was a “multi-million pound” ‘equity for media’ deal with Northern & Shell Ventures, part of the independently owned UK media group which operates Express Newspapers, The Health Lottery and OK! magazine (and, until very recently, TV station Channel 5).

“Our last deal was all about increasing visibility, and letting landlords and tenants know there is an alternative to the high street. [The idea of an] online agency was new back then,” OpenRent co-founder Daz Bradbury tells me. “It’s now an established product, and a go-to solution for a large portion of the market”.

Founded in 2012, OpenRent provides services to landlords and tenants, including property advertising and “tenancy creation and management tools,” as an arguably better-value and certainly cheaper alternative to many of the products a high street letting agent offers.

Pricing starts at £29 for its “tenant find” feature, though OpenRent also offers other paid-for features, such as contracts, reference checking, and gas and electrical safety; the kinds of things landlords would normally pay an agency for. It doesn’t, however, handle viewings, for example.

With that said, OpenRent’s margins are low compared to traditional brick ‘n’ mortar letting agencies, putting the startup and its direct competitors, such as uPad, in the pile ’em high, sell ’em cheap game. That’s not something Bradbury necessarily disputes, arguing that its product and tech is enabling it to scale with a very small, albeit growing team of just ten people.

 “[Because of] our product focus, the levels of service we can offer customers improve by the day. For example our time to let a property (pretty much the key success measure for a landlord) continues to fall and is currently 8 days versus 3 weeks for a high street agent,” he says.

With 50,000 properties for rental advertised last year, OpenRent also claims to be the biggest letting agent in the U.K., though comparing it to a traditional high street agency, such as Foxtons, doesn’t account for the difference in business model, basket size and margin. Number of listings is one metric, size in terms of revenue is something altogether different.

Traditional agencies (or the likes of Rentify since it pivoted to a ‘guaranteed rent for landlords’ model) offer to fully manage a property, too, therefore going beyond landlord and tenant matching and related add-on services, which is, arguably, the lower end of the market that OpenRent and its ilk have successfully targeted and, increasingly, disrupted.

Meanwhile, OpenRent says the new capital will be used to grow its team, specifically developers who can accelerate product development and help the startup build new features enabled by the scale it says it has now reached.

“We’ve evolved from a product which targeted the most painful elements of being a landlord (i.e, finding tenants and creating a tenancy with them) to become the go-to service for our customers,” adds Bradbury. “This means helping them with a broader range of landlord activities, which we continue to build out”.

GM’s new Maven Reserve service offers monthly vehicle rentals

Alternative models to car ownership now abound, and GM’s putting one more on the table: Maven Reserve, an offering within its Maven on-demand rental service that lets users rent new GM cars for 28 days at a time, complete with parking, insurance and $100 in gas credit. These will cost you, however: The Chevrolet Tahoe is one of the initial offerings, with a $1,500 flat rate for the month, and the less expensive Chevrolet Volt is also available – but still runs $1,100 per month.

These vehicles include a lot of optional service extras that GM would normally charge more for on top of the price of a new vehicle or lease, however, including Apple CarPlay and Android Auto infotainment options, as well as SiriusXM satellite radio, 4G LTE WiFi. You also get access to support from “Maven advisors,” who can provide answers to questions, roadside assistance and handle emergency situations via GM’s OnStar service.

At first, GM will be offering Maven Reserve only in LA and San Francisco, both beginning Friday. These initial markets were chosen, according to the automaker, because of their entrepreneurial and entertainment market demographics – the theory being that the convenience of long-term on-demand rentals will appeal to groups of people whose routines and commutes change with fair frequency. These areas also tend to house a lot of long-term work placement employees from other markets, so it’s a suitable choice for Maven in that way, too.

Maven suggests some other possible use cases from either location: The Tahoe is a good fit for hauling production equipment to location shoots, for instance, and the Volt can manage the San Francisco to Silicon Valley commute with relative ease thanks to its extended-range hybrid electric drivetrain. Tahoe and Volt were also chosen for more data-driven reasons: They’re some of the most popular cars in the existing Maven City lineup for short-term rentals.

 This isn’t the first time a GM brand is dipping its toes into longer-term rentals: Cadillac has been testing its Book by Cadillac long-term on-demand rental service in New York. That also asks for a $1,500 monthly fee, but is designed for multi-month use and offers subscribers the option to choose from a range of Cadillac vehicles which they can switch out as needed.

At $1,100 and $1,500 per month respectively for Tahoe and Volt monthly rentals, respectively, Maven Reserve isn’t going to be for everyone – but if you start adding up the cost of lease, insurance and that $100 gas credit, plus payment for a parking spot in these busy cities, and you’re hitting that mark pretty quick. The best cost offset might be the fact that you only pay when you need it – unlike a lease, which you’re stuck with for the duration of your term.

Maven Reserve also feels like one part of a hybrid model that will provide an array of options in concert to replace ownership: Maven City, and forthcoming on-demand ride-sharing GM is planning to launch with autonomous vehicles further on down the road can work together with Maven Reserve to suit the different needs of the same individual at different times. Maven may have started life as essentially just a GM-branded Zipcar equivalent, but it’s quickly evolving into much more.

SoftBank, Foxconn to Deepen Ties With Joint Venture

Japan’s SoftBank Group and Taiwan’s Foxconn will soon begin operating a joint venture that deepens ties between two of Asia’s biggest technology companies, they said on Friday.

The move will give Foxconn, formally known as Hon Hai Precision Industry Co, a 54.5 percent stake in one of SoftBank’s existing subsidiaries for $600 million (roughly Rs. 3,998 crores) and comes as both groups step up investments in the technology sector and consider expansion in the United States.

SoftBank, Foxconn to Deepen Ties With Joint Venture

Under the arrangement, a subsidiary of Foxconn will buy new shares in SoftBank Group Capital Apac Pte Ltd for a controlling stake, transforming what had been a wholly-owned SoftBank unit into a joint venture, the companies said.

The deal is expected to take effect on March 1, reducing SoftBank’s holding to 45.5 percent.

The joint venture will invest in initiatives that will integrate SoftBank’s investment expertise and Foxconn’s advanced manufacturing and technology services, Foxconn said, adding that it will manage the operation.

The Taiwanese company is a a major supplier for Apple and is parent to Sharp, the Japanese manufacturer of liquid crystal display (LCD) screens, in which it bought a two-thirds stake last year.

 SoftBank owns stakes in many companies, including US telecoms carrier Sprint Corp and Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba.

Foxconn founder Terry Gou and SoftBank Chief Executive Masayoshi Son, both among Asia’s richest men, have done business together for years.

In December plans from the two companies on the possible expansion of investment in the United States were revealed after a meeting between Son and Donald Trump shortly after Trump was elected as US president.

Gou later said the outlines of the investment presented to Trump were from a telephone call he and Son shared before the meeting.

H1B Visa Changes: India Lobbies Trump Administration to Avert Threat

India has stepped up its lobbying effort against moves in the US Congress to impose curbs on visas for skilled workers that threaten the South Asian nation’s tech sector, which employs more than 3.5 million people.

H1B Visa Changes: India Lobbies Trump Administration to Avert Threat

Speaking to Reuters, Trade Minister Nirmala Sitharaman said New Delhi had reached out to the administration of President Donald Trump to stress the importance of India’s $150-billion IT services industry to US citizens.

“India’s investments in the United States have provided jobs to US citizens,” she said in an interview. “That has to be brought to the notice of the US administration.”

The comments come days after Prime Minister Narendra Modi urged Washington to keep an open mind on admitting skilled Indian workers.

Indian software companies such as Tata Consultancy Services, Infosys and Wipro shot to prominence in the 1990s by helping Western firms stamp out the “Y2K” bug.

Trump’s “America First” rhetoric on jobs, however, has put their biggest market under threat.

A bill was introduced in the US Congress last month to more than double the minimum salary of H-1B visa holders, which could significantly boost costs for IT companies, whose margins are already being squeezed.

New Delhi has backed a move by Nasscom, India’s high-tech industry association, to lobby US lawmakers and companies to urge the administration not to crack down on allowing its skilled workers into the United States.

 “We will have to engage with the new administration,” Sitharaman said. “Our engagement at every level is intact and continuing.”

The United States is India’s biggest trading partner, but trade in goods between the two countries has been stagnant, at around $67 billion (roughly Rs. 446,454 crores), for the last three years. Indian software exports to the US rose more than 10 percent, to $37 billion, in the last fiscal year from a year earlier.

Indian nationals are by far the largest group of recipients of the 65,000 H-1B visas issued annually to new applicants under a cap mandated by Congress. More than 60 percent of the US employees of Infosys hold H-1B visas.

A global pact on services trade would go a long way towards settling disputes over professional visas, Sitharaman said.

“If only there is a framework…you will know how movement can happen and how certain restrictions can or cannot come,” she said. “It’s time for countries to sit together and look at it.”